What does it take to succeed in the IPL?
The 13th edition adds more uncertainties to the mix; since the season will be played at only three venues in the UAE, teams will have to tinker with their strategies in the absence of a home and away routine.Updated: Sep 19, 2020, 09:29 IST
In a rapidly evolving, blitzkrieg format like Twenty20, strategies change every year. And when it’s the Indian Premier League, where there is very little to separate two teams, the thinnest margins decide outcomes. Over the last two seasons, those margins have gotten finer and finer with as much as half of the matches witnessing last-over finishes. The average number of balls remaining in successful chases dipped to 8 last year, the first time it has touched single digits since 2009.
The 13th edition adds more uncertainties to the mix; since the season will be played at only three venues in the UAE, teams will have to tinker with their strategies in the absence of a home and away routine. Expect slower starts, teams relying more on their slow bowling and the overall run rate taking a beating on account of slower outfields if there is no dew. The overall trends, however, may not change much.
The first noticeable trend, at least since 2016, is the intent to chase. Till 2015, captains chose to field just over 50% of the matches where they won the toss. From 2016 onwards though, teams have overwhelmingly preferred the chase. What changed? One landmark innings may have played a key role—West Indies all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite smoking four consecutive sixes in the last over of the World Twenty20 final against England at Eden Gardens. It showed that no total is safe if the chasing team has wickets in hand. In the IPL that year, 68% matches were won by the chasing side, the highest across 12 editions.
That World Twenty20 changed the way most teams treat this format, and Chennai Super Kings are a very good example of that. MS Dhoni has anchored some famous chases but he was originally more comfortable defending smaller scores with spinners. That reflected in the results till 2015, where 45 out of their 79 wins came defending. On Chennai’s return in 2018 from a two-year ban though, 15 out of their 21 wins have come batting second. While Chennai or Hyderabad may have relied on a saner approach, dividing the chase into small phases of two or three overs, the presence of the belligerent Andre Russell encouraged Kolkata Knight Riders to switch gears only in the death overs. That explains KKR’s spectacular average of 12.78 in the death overs during successful chases across the last two editions, the highest among all teams. Mumbai Indians are second, averaging 11.35.
The attacking shot percentage during death overs is a good indicator of how the penchant for leaving it till late is increasingly something teams don’t shy away from. Since 2014, the figure has hovered around the mid 70s, as opposed to the high 60s in the first six editions. It directly affects the run rate as a result, with teams averaging just above 10 in the death overs since 2014, as opposed to around 9.5 before that. That in turn has led to bigger scores. If 170 and above is set as the bar, then IPL teams have gotten better at it every year. In 2014, there were 38 scores of 170 and above. In subsequent editions, the number has risen to 40, 43, 45, 54 and 55.
What of the bowling? During the initial years of the IPL, franchises struggled with bowling resources primarily because T20 cricket was assumed to be a batsman’s game. It isn’t. CSK showed the way by curbing opposition teams’ run flows during the powerplay with R Ashwin’s opening gambits, a strategy many teams went on to imitate.
Only KKR has done it with sustained success, riding on Sunil Narine. Teams like Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kings XI Punjab on the other hand have often copped big losses despite batsmen setting them up with huge scores. That remains the biggest reason why they are yet to win an IPL edition. On an average, Kings XI Punjab have conceded 11.89 runs during the death overs in unsuccessful defences across the last two editions, the worst show among all teams. Bangalore are second, averaging 11.4, followed by Rajasthan Royals with 11.23.
The reason some teams are yet to solve the death overs bowling dilemma is because it’s an evolving art form, and definitely not only about yorkers or slower deliveries. In the later stages of an innings, the modern T20 batsman is smarter about not twitching the instant the ball comes out of the bowler’s hand. And there is always the risk of a yorker going wrong and landing as a juicy half volley when batsmen are looking to clear the infield. That is where adding a back of the length ball in the mix confuses batsmen. Statistics suggest that even though the percentage of slower deliveries bowled per match hasn’t changed much over the years, there is definitely a spike in back of the length deliveries in the last three editions.
Let’s take you back to the 2019 final again, where Mumbai squeezed past CSK by one run. For quite a while now, Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga, the two undisputed kings of the yorker, have taken care of the last four overs, making Mumbai Indians the most effective death bowling team apart from Sunrisers Hyderabad.
With CSK needing 62 in the last five overs, Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma gave the ball to Malinga hoping it would kill the game. It didn’t. Shane Watson took 20 runs in the 16th over from Malinga before he blasted three sixes off Krunal Pandya in the 18th to bring the equation down to 18 from 12 balls. In between those two poundings, Bumrah slipped in a four-run over before returning to concede another nine in the 19th. Malinga eventually defended the total in the last over but had it not been for Bumrah, the game would have been over much before. Out of Bumrah’s last 12 balls, nine were back of the length deliveries. Not only did it help Bumrah finish with figures of 4-0-14-2, it also helped him garner enviable economies of 6.88 and 6.63 in the last two editions.